Several years ago, as thousands watched in Saint Peter’s Square, a seagull and a large black crow attacked two white doves that had just been released by children standing alongside Pope Francis. The violent outcome of this dove release, intended as a peace symbol, saddened those who witnessed it.
Doves are often released at weddings, funerals and other events. Because these birds are usually inbred, can’t fly well and otherwise lack survival skills, ceremonial dove release is releasing them to starve, freeze or be eaten by predators. This is why ornithologists, bird lovers, and animal protection organizations denounce this practice.
Organizations ranging from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the North American Butterfly Association and the American Museum of Natural History don’t want birds to be replaced with butterflies for ceremonial releases. Butterflies are frequently ordered online, and are shipped long distance in boxes, packed in small flat envelopes.
One wedding guest observed, “the bride chose to release small butterflies. It was the most appalling sight we have ever witnessed. Half of them had broken wings, or were near dead. People were stomping on them to put them out of their misery. How anyone could think this is pretty or romantic is beyond me.”
The surviving butterflies usually can’t cope with strange, hostile environments. They may also spread diseases and parasites to local populations.
As PETA reminds us, “with so many creative ways to celebrate special events, there is no reason to put animals at risk.”
Joel D. Freedman